Sunday, February 08, 2009

Rachel Carson Insight

I am reading The Sense of Wonder, by Rachel Carson, 1956. The text is memorable to me...I do love nature. She is quotable.

"If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in."

"I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil. Once the emotions have been aroused -- a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and the unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration, or love-- then we wish for knowledge about the object of our emotional response. Once found, it has lasting meaning. It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate."

These are powerful thoughts. I hear parents and educators express anxiety about not knowing enough. Find freedom as a preparer of soil, as facilitator.

As an educator, and as an aunt and friend to children and young adults, I think Carson's perspective provides an anchor to learning together. We are now in a postmodern society and some education and parenting is still in the modern tradition (facts rule).

What are kids really into as they reach perhaps middle school and on into adult life -- music. Where would you categorize music, if you had to do so? Fact? Or emotion?

Think about traditional school life, largely based on fact management, so as to make it easy to test kids and evaluate the success of the school. Probably because emotion is hard to quantify and term useful or productive in modern tradition. As school years progress, have you noticed that many kids disconnect from learning as modeled for them in tradition school experiences? I have.

Listen to great people in interviews as to why so many drop out of high school. Their answers miss the obvious in many responses, at least for me. Perhaps an answer may be found in these thoughts shared by Carson. The delicate balance of facts and emotion. I also think the force (as in the silent hand that steers all things classroom) to learn the facts continues to quietly shout or whisper with a roar in such a way that many kids inadvertently become convinced that they are stupid, or at least not good enough, that they do not measure up. So why would they stay in school? Besides the fact that school gives them time to listen to their Ipods [music...emotion] and possibly feel something, even if only drama, in friendships.

Older students are fighting for meaning. Traditional school often does not offer that. Isn't it more powerful to be able to know how to research and find facts (which do tend to change and expand anyway...I memorized nine planets, case in point), and discern the truth (I once saw several pages of Internet opportunities to go whale watching in Lake Michigan, for example), and then use the truth. Kids often merely memorize and complete assignments to play the game of school, often without true context and connection, often at stages of development that cannot support the experience (higher math for me). [Note: I do highly value the important skill of completing assignments and doing so on time...very practical.]

Thank you, Lord, for teachers that engage students and prepare the "soil" for the facts to grow through best practices in the classroom and hearts to serve human beings fighting for their souls while society values them as future producers in the economy. Good teachers facilitate the invitation for a child to "want to know," and provide earthy, warm, nutritious soil to grow.

And what about passing along a life-gripping, authentic faith in Christ to the next generation? Do we simply pound the facts of the faith and neglect the emotions which connect with the untamed mystery of God, those emotions that reveal a God bigger than my image of Him? I have observed many kids growing up with all the facts of the faith, but it doesn't quite translate in to a passion to follow Christ in authentic living and continued hunger and growth. They often can simple tell you why they are right and others are wrong. That is a bridge to nowhere. Get out the yellow "Caution" tape.

We all learn to give the right answers. How do we learn to ask the right questions? To wonder. I wonder. Thank you, Rachel Carson, for a good read on the Sense of Wonder.

2 comments:

Daniel said...

This is very similar to the school in Coketown, the sooty setting of Charles Dickens's Hard Times novel. In the school, the children are only taught to memorize facts, and to detest 'fanciful' things, such as the circus. Life for them had little meaning.

One of the big liberal arts colleges in the Midwest has a brochure entitled, "The Usefulness of Uselessness", where they emphasize skills and desire for life-long learning over 'facts'.

I have been let down recently by the bureaucratic and detached system of public schools. Okay, they want to look better than other schools and can't know everyone personally, but the wonder is gone from the learning.

Cindi said...

I enjoyed hearing about the school in Hard Times, and would love to read that brochure you mentioned. Sorry to hear you too have been a victim of detachment from meaning, though I'm sure some teachers engaged you along the way. I love learning. I am impatient with education. :-)